Date With The President

Columbia's return to Earth on Independence Day, 4 July 1982, was interesting for Mattingly and different again from his memories of coming home after his lunar mission: ''Apollo had aggressive forces on launch and entry, whereas the Shuttle has just really soft forces and entry is just a piece of cake.'' Their arrival at Edwards Air Force Base was being watched closely by President Ronald Reagan and the astronauts had already been briefed by NASA Administrator James Beggs and asked to think up some memorable words to mark the occasion.

''We knew they had hyped-up the STS-4 mission so that they wanted to make sure that we landed on the Fourth of July,'' Mattingly said later. ''It was in no uncertain terms that we were going to land on the Fourth of July, no matter what day we took off. Even if it was the Fifth, we were going to land on the Fourth! That meant, if you didn't do any of your test mission, that's okay, as long as you land on

Date with the President 53

Hank Hartsfield (left) and Ken Mattingly (saluting) are greeted by President Ronald

Reagan at Edwards Air Force Base on 4 July 1982.

Hank Hartsfield (left) and Ken Mattingly (saluting) are greeted by President Ronald

Reagan at Edwards Air Force Base on 4 July 1982.

the Fourth, because the President is going to be there. We thought that was kinda interesting.''

Fortunately, Columbia's landing - the first on concrete Runway 22 - was precisely on time at 4:09:31 pm on Independence Day, completing a textbook seven-day mission. Unlike the experience of Lousma and Fullerton on STS-3, the Shuttle's landing gear was deployed at an altitude of 123 metres, a full 20 seconds before touchdown, allowing all six wheels to fully lock into place with plenty of time to spare. Columbia landed a couple of hundred metres past the runway threshold and Mattingly applied the brakes for 20 seconds to bring her to a smooth stop.

The astronauts had considered putting up a notice for the President, who they expected would want to come on board to look around the Shuttle's middeck, with words to the effect of'Welcome to Columbia. Thirty minutes ago, this was in space.' Unfortunately, US Navy Captain Ken Mattingly's first meeting with his Commander-in-Chief - who used the occasion to declare the Shuttle fully operational - was done with a rather painful forehead . . .

After the flight, Mattingly said, ''I said [to Hartsfield, while on the flight deck] 'I

am not going to have somebody come up here and pull me out of this chair. I'm going to give every ounce of strength I've got and get up on my own.' So I just got this mental set and I pushed and I hit my head on the overhead [control panel] so hard that blood was coming out! Oh, did I have a headache!'' Nevertheless, both astronauts composed themselves, disembarked, descended the steps and Hartsfield and a sore-headed Mattingly smartly saluted the President.

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